Melodeon or Accordion or Accordéon or what?

“So what is that you’re playing?”


I get that all the time. They’re pointing at my accordion.

“Isn’t that supposed to have … like … piano keys or something. Is that a concertina?”

Saltarelle Pastourelle III, a magnificently fine button
accordion, or melodeon, or accordéon diatonique.
photo by Brigid Chapin

No, it’s not. It’s a diatonic accordion. A concertina has hexagonal sides with buttons on … nevermind.  They glazed over at “diatonic.” So, it’s a kind of accordion, I tell them, and send them on their way. I don’t tell them that there’s disagreement on this topic even in the accordion community!


I belong to a fantastic on-line forum, based in England, called Melodeon.net, and there, it seems, any rectangular, free-reed box with buttons and a diatonic push-me-pull-you (bisonorous) action going on is a “melodeon,” not an accordion. An accordion would be … well … not entirely sure, maybe unisonorous piano keys or buttons. Historically, “melodeon” has been used for button accordions with one row of buttons, like Cajun accordions, but my guess is that, at least in England, the word “melodeon” has gotten legs.


In France it’s an accordéon, which is where my nom de blog comes from, though it’s a rogue derivation, a figment of caprice. A person who plays accordéon is an accordéonist, properly. Colloquially, though, a person who plays a melodeon is called a diatonist, because the kind of accordéon a melodeon is, is an accordéon diatonique. Which is what l’Accordéonaire plays, though he is a figment of caprice. In America, he plays an accordion of some sort, and it’s not a concertina. That’s something else.

2 Comments on “Melodeon or Accordion or Accordéon or what?

  1. Fair enough! It's called a free-reed because, in the accordion, the steel reeds are affixed to the reed plate at one end. The other end of the reed vibrates freely, when the bellows action pushes air across it. It's the same action as a harmonica or harmonium (reed organ). The family of instruments is called “free reed.”

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